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“I always return to this town with a feeling that I am expected here as if in my family home. And the house was in Kościelna Street…”
The tenement house at No 7 Kościelna Street (formerly No 2 Rynek) was built around 1870. It used to belong to Seweryn Kurowski, a chemist and deputy mayor of Wadowice. In 1905, the house became the property of Józef Lisko, a confectioner, who – six years later – sold it to a Jew, Chaim Bałamuth, a merchant and president of the local Jewish community as well as a town alderman. There, Bałamuth ran a hardware store facing the Square, and Adolf Zadora had a bookbinding workshop in the back while upstairs flats were rented out to lodgers.
In 1919, Karol Wojtyła Sr., his wife Emilia Kaczorkowska and their 13-year-old son Edmund moved in, taking up two rooms and a kitchen. Their second son, Karol Józef (the future Holy Father John Paul II) was born there on May 18, 1920 and lived there for the next eighteen years. During that time, he lost both his mother who died in 1929 and his brother Edmund who passed away in 1932. Together with his father he left Wadowice in 1938 to study at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, majoring in Polish.
Their old home had undergone many changes: a parquet floor replaced the old painted boards; the doors connecting an enfilade suite of rooms were moved from close to the windows to the center of the walls; a new door opened to the balcony now; two windows (overlooking the church) were walled up; and finally, three more rooms were added.
The idea to set up a museum dedicated to the Pope was first conceived by Rev. Prelate Edward Zacher, Ph.D., long serving the Holy Father as his religion teacher and a parish priest in Wadowice, and His Eminence Franciszek Cardinal Macharski. Before the museum could be established, it was necessary to find substitute flats for the lodgers.
Father Zacher proved very helpful in handling the formalities while the Metropolitan Curia of Cracow and the Wadowice Town Council both offered their support. By 1980, most lodgers had moved out making it possible to undertake major renovation of the building in 1981-1982. The house was very dilapidated and required reinforcing the floors, replacing the wooden balcony with a concrete one, replacing the windows and laying a new parquet floor.
On May 18, 1984 – John Paul II’s 64th birthday – the exhibition in the Holy Father John Paul II Family Home was ready.
As only very few original fixtures and furniture of the Wojtyłas’ flat survived, the exhibition had the character of a rather permanent biographical display. Its objective was to portray and preserve for posterity the life and works of Karol Wojtyła in Poland before he became the Bishop of Rome. The exhibition consisted of John Paul II’s personal belongings and chronologically arranged papers, handwritten documents, books and photographs. The most valuable exhibits included: a picture – the First Holy Communion keepsake; a scapular presented to young Karol Wojtyła by the Carmelite Fathers of Wadowice on “Górka”; a picture taken at his first Holy Mass Service with his autograph; two rosaries of the Holy Father (one given to him by Sister Lucia of Fatima); his cardinal’s garment; the papal garment which he put on immediately after being elected the Pope. The exhibition was designed by Marek Rostworowski.
In 1998, two more rooms were added to the permanent exhibition to showcase a composition of photographs arranged so as to symbolically depict Pope John Paul II and his homeland. The photographs were taken during the Holy Father’s three visits to Wadowice and at the 20th anniversary of his appointment to the Holy See.